Convention Protests Loom as Defining Test for LAPD

Convention Protests Loom as Defining Test for LAPD
Posted by FoM on July 17, 2000 at 10:47:28 PT
By Jeffrey L. Rabin, Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times
Security: Police visit to activists' newly opened offices underscores concern over potential violence.   Within hours of moving into its headquarters Saturday, an organizing group for protesters coming to next month's Democratic National Convention received an unannounced visit from the LAPD. It was yet another signal of how seriously the Los Angeles Police Department is taking the threat of possible trouble in the streets. 
   Officers showed up at the Direct Action Network office near MacArthur Park asking questions about how safe the building might be--and seeking an indication of the group's intentions during the convention.   "Because there are going to be a lot of people out exercising their 1st Amendment rights at the convention, we need to make sure that things are going to be peaceful, and that's our biggest concern," Sgt. Cathy Riggs says on a videotape of the incident taken by the activists. "I don't want to get hurt, my Mom doesn't want me to get hurt, and my family doesn't want me to get hurt. And . . . we don't want to have to hurt people either."   The prospect of many demonstrators taking to the streets represents a tough test for Southern California law enforcement. Led by the LAPD, an array of local, state and federal agencies is bracing for a potentially tumultuous week in which conflicts could erupt anywhere and everywhere, stretching the limits of police planning and resources.   Indeed, handling simultaneous demonstrations in various parts of the city is a challenge that has stymied police here and elsewhere over the years.   The riots in 1992 erupted downtown, in South-Central and in Pico Union nearly at once. Within a day, they had spread throughout Koreatown and Hollywood, as well as to other parts of the city. That conflagration was aided by police hesitation, which took days to overcome.   Last year in Seattle, police similarly were overcome by protests that were far more organized and confrontational than they had expected. In that case, police were outmaneuvered and humiliated.   Police Won't Discuss Strategy:   LAPD officials involved in convention security refuse to discuss their tactics or deployment plans for dealing with demonstrations here, but promise a huge presence.   "We will be maximally deployed," Police Chief Bernard C. Parks said recently. "We can ill afford not to be well planned."   LAPD Cmdr. David Kalish said the department "fully expects the vast majority of protesters to act peacefully and lawfully."   But judging by the demonstrations that disrupted the World Trade Organization in Seattle last year and the massive police actions needed to protect the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting in Washington in April, Kalish said the LAPD must take seriously the possibility of mass protests here.   "We are obligated to plan and prepare for the worst scenarios and that is what we have done," Kalish said.   The Saturday evening encounter between police and the Direct Action Network organizers illustrated the growing undercurrent of tension on both sides, with police worrying about violent behavior and the demonstrators convinced they are the victims of a campaign of bullying to keep them restrained.   About 10 Rampart Division officers showed up at the group's new Westlake-area headquarters.   The videotape of what was generally a cordial meeting shows Riggs explaining to the group that officers were concerned about the sudden activity at 1919 W. 7th St. that morning because the building had been abandoned. Organizers were cleaning the place before moving in.   Group member Susan Goldberg explained that they had a lease to occupy the building.   Then, Riggs revealed the other purpose for the visit.   "We've heard a lot of disturbing rumors that things are going to happen to police officers during the convention and that there's a lot of anti-police sentiment out there . . . especially after what happened at the World Trade Organization thing in Seattle," Riggs told the group. "You know, we don't want that to happen here. It's incumbent on us . . . to make sure things are smooth and peaceful so you're able to do what you want to do without endangering any lives or property."   Goldberg told Riggs that "the people inside this building . . . are not violent people." The group operates under nonviolent guidelines, she told Riggs.   Kevin Rodiger, a Direct Action Network spokesman, said, "We don't want anyone to have to be afraid of our intentions. We don't know how they are hearing these rumors, but everyone in this organization is committed to nonviolence."   For law enforcement officials, there are fine lines dividing the security needs of the city and the convention and the 1st Amendment rights of protesters.   "People keep forgetting that our No. 1 priority is not the demonstrations," Parks said. "Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the 4 million people who live and work here. The second issue is to have the convention go on orderly and conduct their business. The third issue is dealing with these protests."   Although about two dozen groups have signed up to use a designated protest area outside the large security perimeter around Staples Center, many organizations refuse to be penned into what they derisively call the protest pit. Their legal challenge to the city's plan will be heard in federal court this week. Win or lose, many activists say they will fan out throughout the city this summer.   "We're not going to be contained in some parking lot somewhere," said Shawn McDougal, an organizer with the D2K Network. "It's safe to assume . . . people will be in the streets everywhere."   So what happens if many demonstrators refuse to go to the designated protest zone, a fenced-in parking lot on the north side of Olympic Boulevard between Francisco and Georgia streets? What if they stage actions around the city?   It depends on what they do.   "If they choose not to go to the designated area and they . . . choose to demonstrate . . . by not violating the law and violating the traffic laws and getting into the street, they are just welcome people in the city," Parks said. "But if they start violating the law and disrupting traffic . . . then it's a police matter."   Protest leaders pledge that they will be nonviolent, but do not rule out acts of civil disobedience or "direct action" targeting major institutions. They want to make statements about the growing gap between rich and poor, the effects of global corporatization, environmental damage, human rights and justice.   Kalish said the LAPD's "response would be based upon the challenges we confront. It could be anything from passive civil disobedience--sitting in the street, locking arms--to the other extreme--violent acts."   Chief Sizes Up His Resources:   To be ready for whatever takes place, Parks said, LAPD has canceled all vacations during a two-week period before and during the convention. The department also has the option of putting its officers on 12-hour shifts, if necessary.   Mobilizing the entire department gives Parks a potential daily deployment of 9,346 sworn officers, unless some are on restricted duty, injured or otherwise off duty. The number of officers actually in the field at any given time, however, would be vastly fewer than that. Even with 12-hour shifts, only half of the department would be on duty at any given time, and many officers are commanders, detectives or specialized officers who do not work regular patrol duties.   City Council members are concerned about the potential price tag for additional police overtime and expenses. They are planning to meet with LAPD officials this week to discuss department estimates that the added cost could reach $1.7 million a day in the event of full mobilization.   The LAPD is not limited to its own forces.   "We also have the resources of the California Highway Patrol. We have the resources of the sheriff," Parks said. "We have the resources of the 42 police departments within the region if you have to go to mutual aid."   Calling upon those resources is another matter. The LAPD is a famously proud organization, and in the past it has resisted calling for help. The department was sharply criticized for not seeking outside assistance sooner during the 1992 riots, which erupted after the not-guilty verdicts in the police beating of Rodney G. King.   A report prepared by a panel headed by former FBI Director William H. Webster faulted the department for not requesting outside help early enough to contain rioting and looting and for poor contingency planning and communication. And it also criticized city officials, including then-Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Daryl Gates, for a lack of preparedness for the civil unrest.   Among other things, the relationship of Bradley and Gates, longtime enemies, broke down entirely after the King beating. They had not spoken in more than a year before the riots.   The panel said the response could have been more effective if the LAPD had immediately sought help from the Sheriff's Department and other police agencies. Since then, law enforcement officials in the county insist, they have been working on better coordination. Indeed, one conspicuous difference between the situation today and that in 1992 is that the current mayor and chief speak frequently and publicly express admiration for one another.   LAPD Deputy Chief Maurice Moore said the department has been meeting since last summer with the sheriff, the Highway Patrol, the Secret Service, the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies.   "If it must go beyond the resources of local law enforcement and sheriff and other cities, we could go to the governor for the National Guard if it ever got that bad," Moore said.   Whatever happens, the actions of the LAPD will be closely watched.   Already the department is under intense scrutiny over the Rampart police corruption scandal. It is faced with demands from the U.S. Justice Department for a consent decree to force substantial reforms of the department.   "They will be under a microscope," said former LAPD Chief Ed Davis. "The main thing is to preserve order with due consideration of constitutional rights but zero tolerance for violence," Davis said. "The police are there to prevent disorder. When you do act, you have to act with restraint, circumspection and due caution."   Davis, a former state senator and police chief from 1969 to 1978, said it is extremely important that "the police should never become the central issue in the controversy." And he said it is essential that police avoid media pictures of officers pulling demonstrators along the street or clubbing them.   "The whole thing has to be handled very deliberately," said Davis, whom Chief Parks greatly admires. "This is going to be massive. They have to have a massive number of people on the street."   Avoiding Pitfall of Overreaction:   In one sense, the challenge for police is to resist the very temptation that protesters may urge them to succumb to.   "You expect that protesters are going to want police to overreact," said Robert Klotz, a retired deputy police chief in Washington, D.C. "That makes for good television."   Klotz said it is important that the police not be antagonistic toward demonstrators unless the protesters damage property or injure officers or members of the public.   "It's not an us-versus-them scenario," Klotz said. "The people have a right to conduct their convention. The people who come to protest have a right under the Constitution. You don't have to treat them as the enemy until, by their actions, they have passed the pale and have to be treated differently."   He said police need to take their cue from the demonstrators. Klotz, who policed many protests in Washington over the Vietnam War and civil rights and has been retained by the ACLU in recent years, suggested it would be best if the police were deployed in their normal uniforms rather than in the gas masks, helmets and shields of riot gear.   Such equipment should be nearby if needed, however.   "You don't have to show up looking like you're going to do battle," he said. "If you set a tone like that, you are sending a message that you expect to get in a violent confrontation."   Parks will not discuss the equipment and resources LAPD officers will use or have at their disposal. "We will be in adequate shape as it relates to equipment and materials," he said. It is no secret that the department has tear gas and pepper spray and nonlethal weapons that fire rubber bullets.   Protesting by Reservation Only:   The initial test of the convention security plan devised by the LAPD along with the Secret Service, the FBI, and other agencies over the last year could come in federal court this week.   To secure Staples and the convention center, the LAPD intends to cordon off a large area stretching from the Harbor Freeway on the west to Flower Street on the east and from Olympic Boulevard on the north to Venice Boulevard on the south.   The closest protesters could get to Staples would be the protest zone, where they would be allowed to appear for 55-minute intervals by reservation only. The area--with a stage and sound system--is to be open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It will not be available before the convention begins on Aug. 14 or late at night, said LAPD Officer Dionne Taylor.   As of last week, Taylor said, 24 groups had applied and were being assigned times to use the protest zone. "It's a wide variety, from the person next door to large groups, different unions," she said. The department refused to release the list of groups, but they span the spectrum from Los Angeles Friends of Tibet to church groups and labor unions.   But ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston said the protest site is unacceptable. The organization has filed suit in federal court on behalf of a number of protest groups, challenging the protest zone as unconstitutional because of its distance from the convention.   The city and LAPD are attempting to "corral peaceful demonstrators in a fenced parking lot out of sight and earshot of their intended audience," she said.   Unless a federal judge issues an injunction against the city's plans, the lawsuit contends, protesters "will be left without an effective means of communicating their messages to the delegates and officials who are scheduled to attend the Democratic National Convention."   Both LAPD and city officials defend the restrictions as reasonable and necessary to ensure that the delegates are safe and that the business of the convention takes place successfully.   "We are not violating anybody's constitutional rights," said Deputy City Atty. Debra Gonzales. She said the Police Department, in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention Committee and the Secret Service, has taken the steps necessary to protect federal officials, including President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and all the other dignitaries who will attend the convention.   "The purpose of having a perimeter is to create an area that can be checked for weapons, explosive ordnance devices or other dangerous devices," said LAPD Cmdr. Thomas Lorenzen, head of the department's convention planning group, in a court filing. "Public safety is a paramount concern during the convention period, due to the attendance of large numbers of prominent government officials."   Times staff writers Antonio Olivo and Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story. Letters To The Editor: letters latimes.comLos Angeles Times Contact Information: Monday, July 17, 2000 Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times Related Articles & Web Sites:ACLU Conventions Policy Foundation Conventions: The Government Rampart Articles: & DPF Invite You To The Shadow Convention To Detail Convention Plans Conventional Behavior
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Comment #3 posted by dddd on July 18, 2000 at 04:24:03 PT
Oh yeah
I almost forgot....To those of you who play the stock market,you may still have time to buy stock in pepper spray,and tear gas companies....The smart money would have invested in gas mask,batons/clubs,and helmet/face-sheild options months ago..............tandem d twice
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Comment #2 posted by dddd on July 17, 2000 at 23:47:15 PT
Having lived in LA for the last 25 years,I must admit that if I look at the job of being a cop in LA,from their point of view,,or mine,,it aint an easy job to begin with. On one hand,I think that the media is somehow setting the conventions up,to justify whatever the police do.Local news is consistantly running stories with reference to the Seattle/WTO thing,and painting a scary,threatening possible scenario. On the other hand,I have no doubt,that something strange and violent will occur.If it's not induced by subversive governmental factions,then it will be caused,(or perhaps blamed),by any number of the hundreds of angry locals,or other nuts that drift in for the event.Even on a normal day,something weird or violent happens here. One way or the other,,it aint gonna be pretty.It's most unusual for me to sympathize with the police,but they dont pay cops enough to deal with this stuff.......let's hope for the best. I'm not sure whether I will dare to go downtown to check it out firsthand.It's kinda scary to be deep in LA for something like this.It's like a nightmare waiting to happen,,,,,and like everyone of you, I'm quite a bit older than when I was young...........d x 4 = dddd
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Comment #1 posted by Dan Hillman on July 17, 2000 at 20:43:04 PT
Word to the wise.
Shadow convention attendees: watch out for agents provacateurs.  Anyone pushing a strident line tending towards violence can be assumed to work for the state.
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